Editorial: IPA's DM code need not cause division

Imposing law and order on the direct marketing industry has never been easy. For one thing, it has always attracted more than its fair share of maverick operators, most of whom can thumb their noses at rules and regulations from the comfort of offices well outside the UK. For another, it is a business that embraces a mass of vested and often conflicting interests.

Against that background, the IPA's decision to introduce its own code of practice for DM is to be welcomed as an important step in helping to maintain the industry's standing with consumers. Of course, it would be naive to believe the IPA is being driven by purely altruistic motives.

A credible code will inevitably lead to some agency defections from the Direct Marketing Association and a consequent rise in IPA revenues.

Nevertheless, there are sound reasons why an IPA-sponsored code is the best way to prove direct marketers are acting responsibly. There are equally good reasons why the DMA, as currently structured, isn't best placed to enforce one. As an alliance of agencies, clients and suppliers, the DMA has the near-impossible task of bringing consensus to potentially conflicting views. As a result, there are bound to be significant differences between the "broad church" represented by the DMA and the IPA's more specific concerns.

One area of contention is "blanket" mailings. The IPA says they annoy consumers and damage the reputation of DM. The DMA, whose membership includes companies specialising in mass mailshots, is forced to take a more sanguine line. Another is the issue of whether consumers should be able to opt in to receive direct mail, as the IPA wishes, or to opt out, meaning they receive mailings automatically unless they request not to be sent them.

Opting out remains the DMA's policy, although it may review its stance.

If sensitivity and pragmatism are allowed to prevail, there's no reason why the IPA's initiative should provoke conflict. While the IPA becomes the guardian of DM's probity, the DMA can concentrate on its strengths, particularly as a powerful and influential lobbyist at Westminster and Brussels. If demarcation lines are clear, no-one need lose and DM will be the ultimate winner.